Saturday, October 31, 2009

Feast of All Saints – Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12 --This is our feast day

During the papacy of John Paul II, I heard a priest friend of mine saying at one stage how he thought it was crazy the way John Paul II was making (or ‘canonizing’) so many saints. He was saying, ‘what is the point of it?’ But I told him that I disagreed with him because I believed that one of the things that the pope was doing was showing us that holiness is something that all of us are called to and that many people reach. The great thing about what John Paul was doing was also in the fact that he officially recognised (canonized) so many lay people as saints. In the past there was a misperception that one usually had to be in religious life to become a saint and generally those who were canonized were priests or religious. The truth is that there are many saints all around us right now, but most of them we will never know about until we reach heaven ourselves. Everyone who reaches God in heaven when they die, is a saint and that is our destiny. That is what we are called to.

A common misunderstanding that many people have is that a saint is someone who never does anything wrong. That is naive and quite ridiculous. If you read any reasonably accurate or honest life of any of the saints, you will notice two things that all of them have in common. First of all they were ordinary people who struggled with their humanity like any of us, but they also had a great love for God and they were open to God. Secondly, they all suffered quite a lot during their life. And this struggle, which all of us are faced with, is part of what brought them close to God. The suffering they went through, and which all of us have to go through because it is simply part of this life, was part of what formed them and drew them close to God. Perhaps one of the differences between them and some other people would be that in spite of the difficulties they were faced with, they kept coming back to God. They kept getting up again when they were knocked down. They didn’t give up. As you well know it is often very tempting when you are down to say, ‘ah, where’s the point? I couldn’t be bothered.’ It is not always easy to get up again, to admit you are wrong, or to have to try again. But that is what we are called to. That is what makes a person blossom.

God is calling all of us along the same path; that is, along the path that leads to him. It is not the easiest path, but it is the only path that is really worthwhile. That is why Jesus taught us ‘what use is it for someone to gain the whole world, but to lose their soul?’ Everything here is passing and no matter how much we ‘achieve’ in the world’s eyes, that is not what counts before God. That is also why it doesn’t matter before God whether we have been ‘successful’ or not, as the world sees it. It is great if you have, but it is not what is important. That also means that the person who has become the head of a big company has no advantage over someone who is unemployed, or is even living on the street, because that is not what counts before God. We are not called to be ‘successful’, but simply to do our best. What we are called to above all else is to love God and to love the people around us. And as you know, it is possible for everyone to do that.

The one thing that God will not do is force us to follow him or to love. God continually draws us forward, but we can resist, and as you know we often do resist. However, the wonderful thing is that no matter how many times we resist or turn away, God will continually call us back and lovingly welcome us back every time we turn to him again. And that is largely the struggle that we have to go through in this life until we get to heaven ourselves. It is not guaranteed that we go to heaven for the simple reason that if it was, then our free will would mean nothing. But heaven is what God wants for us and the Lord will make that happen unless we totally and completely reject God by the way we live. Sadly some people do seem to completely reject God and everything to do with God. However, we do not know that for sure and that is why we can never judge the heart of another person, even if their actions are wrong.

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about all this is that God is with us and will do everything possible to help us find happiness, beginning in this life and fulfilled in the next life in a way that we cannot possibly imagine. All things are possible to God and as long as we remain open, God will help us to find that happiness, beginning in this life, and fulfilled in the next.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

30th Sunday, Year B (Gospel: Mark 10:46-52) 'What do you want me to do for you?'

Imagine for a minute if at one time in your life before you die, the Lord himself appeared to you and asked you one question: the question is this: ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ What would you ask him? Maybe it would be a cure for a physical illness, or for someone you know. Maybe it would be to resolve a difficult situation to be sorted out, like a marriage that’s in trouble or maybe for help for your children. Perhaps it would be for more faith.

I think I might ask God to give me more faith, faith to recognise what we already have been given. We ask for help all the time, we ask God to be present to us, we ask God to forgive and heal us… and He does, but we often don’t recognise it.

I believe that if I had greater faith to recognise what God has already given me, I would ask for very little else, because He has given us everything that we need. We would like to know that Jesus is close to us and looking after us: and He is. In the mass he becomes present in the bread and wine, through the priest, and we can take him into our own bodies. How much closer could we get to the Lord than to receive him into our own bodies? And we can receive him every day if we wish. We want to know that we are forgiven and we want to be healed. The Lord offers us this gift through confession, but we don’t often make use of it.

If we believe that he is the Lord of all things, who has made everything and who has power over everything, the One who will come to judge the living and the dead, then why on earth should we be afraid of any situation we encounter, or anyone, when we believe that God is so close to us? Why should we be afraid of the world or of anyone in it, when God is with us? In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, ‘So do not say, what are we to eat, what are we to drink, what are we to wear? Your heavenly Father knows all your needs. Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be given to you as well.’ (Mt 6.31)

How do we become more aware of this presence of God around us? Through prayer. That’s why Jesus spent so much of his time trying to teach people to pray, so that they would become aware of the reality of God with them and around them. When we pray, and give time to God and the things of God, we learn to recognise how much God is all around us, in everything we do, in everyone we meet. I always think it is lovely to see so many people dropping into the church here every morning, just for a moment; to be silent, or to speak to the Lord, or make a request. These are all different ways of praying, of being with God and simply acknowledging God’s presence. We talk about God sometimes as if God were the optional extra in our world. The truth is the other way around. We are the optional extra. God is there one way or the other, whether we acknowledge him or not.

I heard a priest say once, ‘if God isn’t in your money he isn’t in your life.’ In other words God must be in every part of our life, if He is there at all. Otherwise we are practical atheists. We can know that God is there but do absolutely nothing about him. That’s practical atheism. You know that your r next door neighbour exists, but if you never speak to him, or meet him, or bother with him he or she might as well not be there. That is practical atheism and there are a lot of practical atheists around.

If God is to be part of our life, we have to do something about it. That’s why we pray and come to the church and try to listen to God. We make space for him so that we can hear him. We pray in whatever way our life makes possible. Speaking to God in your car on the way to work; that’s prayer. Being aware of God in your home, even if it’s noisy, is prayer. Reading the word of God. Spending some time in silence. God has plenty to say, if we would listen.

I believe that the more we pray, the more we will recognise that God has already given us everything we need. He is deeply concerned about us. He wants to be in our money too. And God always answers us when we pray, but it may not be the way we expect.

Just to return briefly to the Gospel reading. Jesus said, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man asked for his sight back, and of course Jesus gave it to him. Why would he refuse him? And why would he refuse us either?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

29th Sunday Year B - Mission Sunday -

In the times we are living in there is much talk about religion and religious extremism. We are seeing a lot of examples of bad practice of religion, when it is used as an excuse for violence or corruption. It raises the question, what exactly is the purpose of the Church? Why did Jesus bring about a Church? Well the mission or purpose of the Church is to make God known to people and to make the work of Jesus Christ known to people. Jesus’ own life was about revealing God to us and of course dying for us. It is not about filling churches, it is about teaching people about God and helping people to discover God. People often say to me, 'I wish such and such a person would just go back to mass.' But just going back to mass is not enough. Faith has to come first. Once someone discovers God and begins to grow in their faith, and they begin to recognise their own hunger for God ,then they may come to the church to pray with other people who also believe. That’s why we come here: to pray together and to be fed spiritually.

None of us are strong enough to make it on our own. We need the support of each other. So we listen to the teachings of Christ and then we celebrate the last supper, where Jesus made himself present in the form of bread and wine, so that he could be with us always. That is what the mass is.

The purpose of Christ coming to us was basically two-fold. First of all to make God known to us, to teach us about him and show us what God is like and how God relates to us. Anything we want to know about God we will discover in Jesus. It says in the letter to the Colossians, ‘He is the image of the invisible God’.

If I painted a picture of myself, it would just be a picture, but it wouldn’t move or speak. If God painted a picture of himself it would be the person of Jesus. Not just a picture, but a real person. That’s who Jesus is, the image of God. At one stage Philip, one of the Apostles, said to Jesus, ‘just show us the Father and then we shall be satisfied’. And Jesus said, ‘do you not understand that to have seen me is to have seen the Father?’ They are one and the same. So by looking to Jesus and learning about him, we are learning about who God is and what God is like.

The second purpose of Christ coming to us was to free us from the power of Satan, from the power of sin. So by dying for us, Jesus reopened the way to God for us. You could say that Jesus rebuilt the bridge between God and humanity which had collapsed because of Original Sin. It is now open to us if we turn to him. The choice is ours. And the mission of the Church is to let people know about this, what God has done for us and what is there for us all, by turning to Jesus Christ.

All people have a right to hear about God and to know about him. And it is our mission to make this known to people, because God has told us to. It should never be forced on people, but if this is the truth about God, which we believe it is, then people have a right to know that truth. It is up to them whether they decide to believe it or not.

Is this mission still being fulfilled today? Of course it is. Here am I speaking to you about it two thousand years later. How much faith we do or don’t have is irrelevant. The fact that we are here at all is what is important. So the mission of the Church, is to pass on this truth about God that God has made known to us. It is the message which makes sense of our whole life and all people have a right to know this.

What is the best way to pass on this message? By living it as well as we can ourselves. That is the best way we can teach others about what we believe in. I will finish with the words of St. Francis of Assisi who used to say, ‘let us go and preach the gospel; and if necessary, use words.’

28th Sunday Year B - For God everything is possible

There is a priest by the name of Benedict Groeschel from New York, who founded the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal—the Friars who gave the mission here during the summer. Fr. Groeschel is an excellent speaker and in one of his talks he was saying that there is a man he knows in New York who is a multi millionaire, with more money than he could ever spend, or knows what to do with. Benedict goes on to say that he was talking to this man at a particular conference and he—let us call him John Goldman—was saying to Benedict that he would like to put his money to good use, but he didn’t know what to do with it. He admitted straight out that he had more money than he could ever spend. Benedict said that if he wanted he could give a donation to one of the orphanages that they run in the Bronx, as it would make a big difference to them. In spite of the fact that it was John Goldman himself who brought up the subject and admitted that he didn’t know what to do with all his money, but wanted to put it to good use, by the end of the conference he still hadn’t agreed to part with one cent of his money. Benedict was saying that it was as if he was possessed by his wealth. He had no freedom.

Most of us don’t have that kind of problem. In fact most people have the opposite problem, but it is still very easy to become consumed even with the desire for money, or riches, or indeed anything. The problem is not the riches themselves, but our attachment to them.

In the Gospel which we have just heard, see how Jesus responds to the rich young man who is keen to live the right way. When he asks what he should be doing to get to heaven, Jesus doesn’t say ‘you should sell all your possessions’. First he just says, ‘you know the commandments; live them.’ It is only when he is pushed that Jesus then says ‘go and sell all you own...’ What is he doing? Jesus is showing the young man that he is not as free as he thinks he is. In spite of the fact that he could probably buy anything he wants and do anything he wants because of his wealth, he is in fact a slave to his riches. Jesus is not just trying to make the young man miserable, but rather since he did ask, Jesus is pointing out where the problem is for him. The problem is not in having riches, but that we get so attached to them that we are no longer free. No doubt the young man felt he was living a good life, and he probably was, but the Lord wanted him to see that he was not half as free as he thought.

Now you don’t have to be very wealthy for that to happen. St. John of the Cross says that if you become too attached to your rosary beads, then get rid of them. He also says there is no point in taking a vow of poverty if you are still consumed with the desire for the things that you have given up. The freedom from them is what is really important.

Thank God for what you own, but ask yourself are you free from it, or a slave to it? Because if you are a slave to it—thinking that you could not do without it—then it is the master.
Why did Jesus point this out to the young man? Because he wanted him, just as he wants us, to be free to open ourselves up to God. God is the only thing that is really important. Everything else is going to be left behind when we die, even our bodies. That is why he is telling us not to get caught up in what is ultimately trivial. Enjoy what you have of course, but don’t let it become the master.

Most of us are probably much more attached to the things we have than we would like to be. I know I am. But perhaps the most important part of this Gospel is the last part. First of all Jesus says ‘how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God’ and the apostles are amazed, just as most of us probably find this hard to understand too, since the general thinking is that if we had enough money it would resolve most of our problems. But when they say ‘then who can be saved’, or in modern English ‘who can get to heaven?’ then Jesus says ‘for people [by their own strength] it is impossible, but not for God. Everything is possible for God.’ That is the really important thing to remember. Everything is possible for God. By our own strength we are very limited in what we can do, in spite of our best efforts, because we are weak and we easily get distracted by wealth, or work, or relationships or whatever. God knows well that we get caught up in all the wrong things, just like the rich young man in the story, but God is bigger than all of this. God is bigger than the mistakes we make, bigger than our mixed motivations for what we do. That is why we just keep coming back to him and asking him to help us, to forgive us, to guide us: and he does.

The disciples said: ‘If that is the case, then who can be saved?’
Jesus said: ‘For people it is impossible, but not for God; because everything is possible for God.’